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Light Rail Now! NewsLog

Produced by the Light Rail Now! Publication Team

This news feature provides an ongoing Weblog of particularly significant developments in public transportation and rail transit.

20 December 2008

Hybrid "wireless" streetcar line makes debut

Savannah, Georgia — A short, somewhat experimental streetcar tourist line made its debut earlier this month, running along an approximately one-mile (1.6 km) single-track line through a restaurant and tourist district adjacent to the Savannah River. The line serves River Street, a former industrial corridor converted into a more upscale recreational, retail, and restaurant area.

Savannah streetcar The lines's single streetcar (a converted heritage-type car from Melbourne, Australia) was rolled out to participated in Savannah’s Climate Action Parade on River Street on December 9th. On Dec. 13th, the public were invited to take a free test ride on the new line.
[Photo: WSAV-TV]

According to an article in Rail Transit Online (December 2008), the retired Melbourne W5 streetcar, over 70 years old, has been fitted with an on-board biodiesel generator to supply electricity to the traction motors, somewhat similar to the propulsion configuration used on several other lines, such as one in Galveston. Typically, with these kinds of low-cost systems, project managers have sought to avoid the expense and logistical aspects of overhead contact systems (OCS) for supplying power. However, project designers envision eventual conversion to conventional OCS power distribution. According to news reports, the 47-foot-long (14.3-m) car seats about 50 and will accommodate another 50 standing passengers.

The entire project, under the direction of TranSystems, cost about $1 million, including almost $600,000 to buy the right-of-way, $100,000 for engineering and $207,000 for TranSystems to restore the car in Pennsylvania. Rail Transit Online notes that "Savannah has a long history of street railways, with the first horse cars starting operation in 1869 followed in 1890 by electric trolleys. The system closed on Aug. 26, 1946."

The official line opening is scheduled to take place in January.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/12/20

More on Public Transport in Savannah...

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12 November 2008

China leads the way?
Rail public transport investment at heart of massive economic stimulus initiative

As our article » USA: Public transport investment pushed as key element of economic stimulus program « notes, in the face of massive financial collapse and economic crisis, support continues to build within the United States for a major public works initiative,

a kind of 21st-century New Deal – particularly addressing America's dire infrastructure crisis involving bridges, urban utilities, railways, public transit, transportation electrification, and other spects of critical infrastructure. Proponents of such a program argue it can bring jobs and economic uplift – as well as alternatives to petroleum dependency.

As that article also reports,

the Democratic-Party-controlled US Congress is now seriously considering an economic stimulus package, and various groups involved with public transport and rail transportation have been lobbying to include public transportation infrastructure in its core.

At least to a degree, it appears that, internationally, the People's Republic of China is taking the lead in such a direction.

On Nov. 9th, according the the New York Times (Nov. 10th), "China announced a huge economic stimulus package aimed at bolstering its weakening economy and perhaps helping fight the effects of a global economic slowdown."

In a sweeping move at a time when major projects are being put off around the world, Beijing said it would spend an estimated $586 billion by 2010 on wide array of national infrastructure and social welfare projects, including constructing new railways, subways, airports and rebuilding communities devastated by an earthquake in southwest China in May.

The package, announced by the State Council Sunday evening, is the largest economic stimulus effort ever undertaken by the Chinese government and would amount to about 7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product during each of the next two years.

In a similar story on China's huge stimulus package, the Los Angeles Times quotes Jing Ulrich, managing director of China equities at JP Morgan in Hong Kong, who observed that "This broad-based fiscal stimulus program will emerge as the government's front line of defense against an excessive economic slowdown." As the LA Times went on to note, "Ulrich called Beijing's efforts to upgrade infrastructure, develop the countryside and undertake social welfare projects as China's version of a New Deal."

The magitude of the Chinese "New Deal" program is breathtaking. The NY Times points out that

The stimulus plan would be enormous for any country, let alone one whose gross domestic product is lower than most other major industrialized countries, at around $3.5 trillion this year. Earlier this year, the United States Congress passed a $700 billion bailout package in a country with an economy whose size is close to $14 trillion.

Of especial interest is China's inclusion of public transport and rail development in its infrastructure-focused economic stimulus program.

Currently, China already has a massive investment in urban rail transit under way, with rail systems operating or under construction in 15 cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Chengdu, Harbin, Changchun, Shenyang, Xi'an, and Suzhou. In the next 10 years, the total length of the rail transit lines in these 15 cities alone will reach 1,700 kilometers (about 1,050 miles), and total investment will reach 620 billion yuan (about $91 billion). [People's Daily Online, 17 July 2007]

To this must be added the country's already massive investment in its intercity and regional railway system. As the Wall Street Journal reported last year (16 February 2007);

train After years of putting up with a patchy, overburdened rail network, China is suddenly shoveling billions of dollars into new tracks and high-speed trains. Beijing has embarked on a five-year plan through 2010 that calls for a near quadrupling of investment to modernize the country's railways, which it sees as a foundation of a prosperous economy.

[Photo: Rick Wong]


Under its current five-year plan, Beijing targets investment of 1.25 trillion yuan ($161.1 billion) in new rails and equipment, and outlays of 250 billion yuan for locomotives and rolling stock. By the end of 2010, the Ministry of Railways aims to have laid 17,000 more kilometers (about 10,500 more miles) of track –- half as much as in all of Germany – to create a nationwide web stretching more than 90,000 kilometers.

That amounts to about $198 billion – already committed – for China's intercity railway system. Add the $91 billion for urban rail transit, and that totals $289 billion for rail public transportbefore the investments contained in the economic stimulus program just announced!

Beijing metro Beijing metro, Line 2, Jianguomen station. China already has put over 600 km (372 mi) of urban rail transit lines into operation, and over a thousand miles will be installed in 10 years.
[Photo: Robert McConnell]

The importance of China's economic initiative was the focus of an entire segment on the (US) Public Broadcasting System's premier evening news program, News Hour (Nov. 10th), in which Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and a recognized expert on China, was interviewed.

Bergsten emphasized the magnitude of China's economic stimulus/public investment initiative by noting that it would be equivalent to a US stimulus package of about $1 trillion a year for the next two years. Thus, the current US proposals for an economic stimulus package of (at most) a few billion dollars – and even that is facing an uphill struggle – would be "peanuts by comparison".

Various reports indicate that global financial markets have "soared" upon the news of China's planned investment program. As the NY Times article relates, "...Beijing has already indicated that it intends to help stabilize the global economy by looking inward, and helping keep the world's fastest-growing economy on track."

In one sense, there is staggering irony in the world's accolades for China's action, especially after more than two decades in which the unbridled private capitalist market has been idolized, public investment has been disparaged, the mantra of "government is the problem" has been espoused by various American administrations, deregulation to allow the "miracle of the marketplace" to flourish has proliferated, virtually unrestrained "market competition" has been extolled, and privatization of public assets and services has been increasingly promoted as a replacement for public ownership and operation of virtually everything, from schools, dams, water systems, public security, and postal services to public transportation, highways, airports, and even urban streets. (See » With Rail Leading, America's Transit Ridership Soars - But After Years of Underfunding, Agencies Plunge Into Crisis «; and » Bush DOT's privatization & motorization scheme = "Been There, Done That" «.)

Whoops! That model has just crashed and burned. Now China – with the world's largest socialized economic system – is hailed for coming to the rescue of a seriously distressed global capitalist system ... and this follows on the heels of the far-right, "neoconservative" George W. Bush administration's "socialist" takeover of big chunks of the US finance and insurance industry (with, apparently, even more such measures in the wings). While it's unlikely that a rush to overthrow the basic capitalist order is under way, hopefully the current disaster will at least rehabilitate the fundamental merit and necessity of public investment and services (such as public transport) – within a mixed system of public and private-sector cooperation – and pull the plug on the "privatization" craze for some time to come.

So, back to China's public investment initiative: As the LA Times reports,

Analysts welcomed the larger-than-expected stimulus package, which represents about one-sixth of China's overall annual economic output. They said the spending would help businesses, bolster demand for commodities and lift consumption – which would, in turn, give a boost to a world economy that is faltering.

With the U.S., Japan and much of Europe in a deep downturn, China's role looms ever larger as it has been a major driver of global economic growth in recent years.

This was strongly corroborated by Fred Bergsten, who underscored that "China is now by far the biggest single driver of the entire world economy." Indeed, said Bergsten, China now accounts for 10% of the world economy, and one-third of all global economic growth.

And the particular value of China's huge stimulus package was attested by Arthur Kroeber, managing director at Dragonomics, a Beijing-based economic research firm, who told the LA Times that China's government "is sending a signal saying: 'We’re going to spend in a big way.'"

"This is designed to say to the market that people should not panic" he added.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/11/12

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9 November 2008

Public transport investment pushed as key element of economic stimulus program

Across the USA, in the face of massive financial collapse and economic crisis, support continues to build for a major public works initiative – a kind of 21st-century New Deal – particularly addressing America's dire infrastructure crisis involving bridges, urban utilities, railways, public transit, transportation electrification, and other aspects of critical infrastructure. Proponents of such a program argue it can bring jobs and economic uplift – as well as alternatives to petroleum dependency.

Progressive Railroading (Oct. 30th) reports that the Democratic-Party-controlled US Congress is now seriously considering an economic stimulus package, and various groups involved with public transport and rail transportation have been lobbying to include public transportation infrastructure in its core.

According to this report, at the end of October both the House Transportation and Infrastructure and House Ways and Means committees held a congressional hearing "to review pending and delayed transportation projects that could be quickly expedited to boost the economy. Committee members are considering whether to add a transportation element to a second economic stimulus bill."

Citing unspecified transportation officials, the article notes that investing in transportation infrastructure projects would be "a double bonus".

Not only would it create new jobs (35,000 for every $1 billion of federal investment), but an infusion of federal dollars also would foster new and improved infrastructure to meet the rapidly growing demand for transportation services.

The article notes testimony at the hearing from several transportation groups, including the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), "which has identified 559 ready-to-go public transit projects from 170 transit agencies. Worth a total of $8 billion, the projects could start within 90 days after federal funds are made available."

In addition to APTA, two other organizations and their infrastructure proposals are noted:

• The States for Passenger Rail Coalition "called on Congress to set aside $250 million in an economic stimulus bill for intercity passenger-rail improvement projects."

• The Railroad Cooperation and Education Trust, in partnership with the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association, "proposed [that] the economic stimulus package include $100 million in general funds over a two-year period for transit, short line and regional railroads to complete projects that could begin within 180 days and be 'substantially completed' in 2009."

In a similar effort, a number of key government officials and groups – mainly in the New York region – recently called on the next administration and Congress to strengthen America's local and national economies "by building a 21st century transportation system."

T4America According to a report by Epoch Times (Oct. 15th), several "heavyweights" of the New York City-area transportation system and their national partners in the Transportation for America (T4America) Campaign, at an event held at Grand Central Terminal, released a new policy blueprint titled "Build for America: A Five Point Plan to Get Our Economy Moving".
[t4America logo: T4America]

As the Epoch Times article notes, "Their plan has the potential to create 100,000 green jobs in New York and millions more nationally." Major rail and bus initiatives are mentioned "to diversify ... commuting choices", help ameliorate congestion, and "drastically reduce America's dependence on oil."

A related proposal, according to Epoch Times, is contained in an in-depth report titled "Tomorrow's Transit: New Mobility for the Region's Urban Core", presented by the New York-New Jersey-area Regional Plan Association. This is described as "a comprehensive transportation investment blueprint for New York City and Northern New Jersey" that "announces new and upgraded subway, bus, commuter rail, ferry and light rail projects." As recounted by the news report, "The nearly forty recommendations focus on providing service to underserved areas of the city, and work to improve connections in the existing network."

The need for transportation infrastructure investment was stressed by several speakers at the Grand Central press conference. US Rep. Jerrold Nadler (New York Democrat) – one of the strongest supporters of mass transportation and rail in the House of Representatives – warned that "Nationwide, we have the rare opportunity to simultaneously invest in major projects, to create thousands of new jobs and, crucially, to revive a very shaky economy. If we do not focus our resources on transportation and infrastructure, we will not only suffer the economic consequences but will also suffer the continued deterioration of our aging and unsafe infrastructure, particularly in the northeast."

Similar points were emphasized by Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC's Transportation Commissioner and president of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO): "Investing in the infrastructure of the 21st century is one of the most important things the federal government can do right now. We're calling on the next president to support the vital transportation networks of our nation's metropolitan areas, where investment can make a real difference for millions of people."

According to Epoch Times, the USA currently spends $70 billion a year on transportation infrastructure "and many believe that Congress should now do what has been done in every recent recession, and invest still more to stimulate economic recovery." However, the T4America coalition warns that "simply using that money to build highway projects conceived in the last century is unlikely to help", reports the article.

T4's plan "Build for America" calls for investment in public transit, high-speed and intercity rail, neighborhoods that are less car dependent and that are more walkable and more affordable, and restoring the thousands of roads and bridges in failing condition across the United States. Specifically, New York City's T4 partners are asking the next President and Congress to work together on their plan.

As Epoch Times describes, T4America's "Build for America" report lays out a "Five Point Plan" for a public transport infrastructure-focused economic stimulus package:

1. Build to Compete — With China and Europe, by modernizing and expanding our rail and transit networks to reduce oil dependence and connect the metro regions that are the engines of the modern economy.

2. Invest for a Clean, Green Recovery — Through cleaner vehicles and new fuels as well as the cleanest forms of transportation – modern public transit, walking and biking; and for energy-efficient, sustainable development.

3. Fix What's Broken — Before building new roads, restore our crumbling highways, bridges and transit systems.

4. Stop Wasteful Spending — And re-evaluate projects currently in the pipeline to eliminate those with little economic return that could deepen our oil dependence.

5. Save American Money — Provide more travel and housing options that are affordable and efficient, while helping people avoid high gas costs and traffic congestion. Save taxpayer dollars by asking private developers who reap real estate rewards from new rail stations and transit lines to contribute toward that service.

In what the Epoch Times article describes as a "Win-Win Plan", there are multiple economic, environmental, and mobility benefits which can be expected from this program. For example, "As well as the economic benefits of this infrastructure revitalization to Americans, the environment will receive vital stress relief, and by reducing carbon emissions many scientists believe will have the direct effect or reversing of global warming."

As Janette Sadik-Khan points out, New York City's density and public transport-based mobility renders important payoffs: "New Yorkers have one third the impact on the environment than your average American."

 xxxxxxxxx New York City subway train at Brooklyn Bridge station. A New York traveler has just 1/3 the environmental impact of the average American.
[Photo: David Pirmann]

According to T4America, transportation makes up a third of greenhouse gas emissions nationally and an even higher percentage in many states. "Giving Americans more option apart from driving is critical to a climate crisis solution."

As related by the Epoch Times report, per T4America's analysis of America's transport crisis,

...many Americans are stranded without transportation choices that are affordable, efficient, and convenient. Americans are looking to cut back on driving, but that proves difficult when only half have access to public transportation and most live in places built for car dependence. Meanwhile, metro areas are absorbing millions of new residents as the population grows toward 400 million, and struggle to accommodate them while remaining livable.

Giving people options other than driving also helps reduce spending at the gas pump. According to T4, families living in neighborhoods adjacent to rail transit spend an average of 9 percent of their household budget on transport as opposed to 25 percent for those in automobile dependent areas.

Public transportation already saves the U.S. as much as 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline each year. By building a transit, walking, and biking infrastructure that helps more people live in closer proximity to their daily needs, T4 foresees saving America billions more gallons. In 2005 alone, public transportation saved Americans 340 million gallons of gas-resulting in a total savings of $10.2 billion.

The total cost of a fully adequate infrastructure investment program?

According to Epoch Times, currently 78 metro areas around the USA are seeking to raise funds for much-needed rail and high-quality bus lines; for this, a total of $240 billion in transit investments to expand or create new service is needed. In terms of the total cost of all desperately needed transportation infrastructure investments, "the Federal Highway Administration has identified the need for $512 billion in investments over the next several years to restore our existing roads, bridges, and transit systems."

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/11/09

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30 October 2008

Yet another rail transit funding initiative on Nov. 4th ballot

Albuquerque — Here's one we missed! The Rail Runner Express regional passenger rail (RPR) transit system needs to be added to our listing of major rail public transport ballot initiatives facing US voters on November 4th (see Armada of Transit Initiatives Heads Toward USA's November 2008 Ballots.)

Voters in New Mexico's Bernalillo, Sandoval, and Valencia counties – extending from the Albuquerque metro north to Santa Fe – are being asked to decide whether to approve a 1/8 of one-percent regional transit gross receipts tax. If approved, the transit tax – amounting to 12.5 cents for every $100 purchase – would generate approximately $26 million annually. Fifty-percent of these funds would be used to help fund the Rail Runner service, whose current funding ends in June 2009, and 50% would be allocated for Rio Metro regional bus services.

"Why a regional transit system?" asks the Mid Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) on its website, explaining the rationale for the plan.

Well, consider this. By 2015, more than one million people will live in Bernalillo, Sandoval, and Valencia counties, and there will be more than 80,000 new jobs in the region. Just imagine how that will affect drive time. Additionally, our population is aging, but staying active, and wanting to maintain independence. In 2006, there were 93,000 individuals aged 65 and older living in this three-county area. By 2030, that number will increase to 270,000. People don't want to be stuck at home, but rather will rely on public transportation to remain active in their community.

Starting in 2006, operation of the Rail Runner was introduced in phases over a 46-mile (74-km) segment of former Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway trackage from the southern exurb of Belen north to Albuquerque and beyond to the northern exurb of Bernalillo, with nine stations.

Rail Runner planners and decisionmakers consider Rail Runner a whopping success. As the MRCOG website indicates,

Regional transit is green. A regional transit system not only keeps green in your pocket, but is good for the environment. The New Mexico Rail Runner Express is now transporting over 3,000 riders a day – riders who are no longer clogging our roadways during your drive to and from work. Added regional connections such as buses and shuttles will make it even easier for all of us to dump the pump.

Currently, state planners are getting ready to begin Rail Runner service to Santa Fe by the end of this year. The Albuquerque-Santa Fe project will connect the two cities over a 47-mile (76-km) route that mostly uses existing railroad facilities, but also includes a totally new stretch of trackage running 11.7 miles (18.9 km) in the median of Interstate 25. Thus the entire line, from Belen, through Albuquerque and Bernalillo, will stretch a total of 93 miles (150 km). (The map below shows the planned extension from Bernalillo north to Santa Fe. The green and yellow sections indicate alignments in existing railroad corridors, while the section in red shows the segment mostly in highway median.)
[Map: Rail Runner project]


According to the Environmental Assessment for the Rail Runner Phase 2 project (Aug. 2007),

Train service would be provided by a diesel-electric locomotive, two to three bi-level passenger coaches, and a cab control coach. Train operating speeds would be a maximum of 79 miles per hour in rural areas and 35 miles per hour within the urbanized parts of Santa Fe. Train service would operate 16 to 18 hours per day with daily service beginning at 5:00 a.m. and ending about 10:00 p.m.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/10/30

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30 October 2008

Youngstown, Ohio:
Ballot measure would provide dedicated funding for public transit

Youngstown, Ohio — An initiative to provide basic funding for public transit will face voters in November – again. Previously, a 0.25% five-year sales tax for countywide bus service in the region failed when it was on the ballot this past March, but Mahoning County Commissioners have approved Western Reserve Transit Authority's (WRTA) request to put the measure back on the ballot.

If the sales tax is approved, it would raise about $7.5 million annually for WRTA, and would allow the agency to expand service to the southern rural areas of the county. The agency would then eliminate the Youngstown property tax levy that currently funds the system. Reductions in state and federal funding resulted in program cuts of about 50 percent last year. [Youngstown Vindicator, 18 July 2008.]

A dedicated transit tax could also provide the basis for more long-term public transport upgrades and expansion – such as a possible return to rail transit. Youngstown's original urban streetcar and interurban electric trolley systems were destroyed in the 1930s and 1940s during America's Transit Devastation era (also known as the Transit Holocaust).

streetcar Penn-Ohio system streetcar runs through Youngstown in the historic heyday of electric railway public transport. Could dedicated revenue for transit provide a basis for a revival of electric traction?
[Photo: Bill Volkmer collection]

Electric trolleybuses, beginning in 1936, gradually replaced Youngstown's streetcars. Eventually, these, too, were discarded in 1959, leaving public transport entirely dependent on petroleum for power – at the time, regarded as cheap, plentiful, and the wave of the future.

Today, that assessment would probably be different. And, with changing conditions and policies at the federal level, the prospects for a return of electric railways to Youngstown, and many other American cities, may prove to be increasingly brighter.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/10/30

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24 October 2008

Kansas City:
Chamber, tourism industry, leading paper all urge Yes vote on light rail

Kansas City — In an Oct. 20th editorial, the Kansas City Star – the city's major daily newspaper – urged a Yes vote on the tax measures that would fund the proposed 14-mile (22.6-km), $815-million starter light rail transit (LRT) line that will face voters on Nov. 4th. (See our article Armada of Transit Initiatives Heads Toward USA's November 2008 Ballots.)

KC LRT The 12-mile Kansas City portion would be funded locally with a 3/8th cent sales tax hike. The remaining two miles in the independent municipality of North Kansas City would require a half-cent sales tax increase in that jurisdiction. Voters there will decide the fate of that measure on Nov. 4th.
[Graphic: BNIM Architects]

The newspaper says the LRT starter line probably would be the initial link in a future regional system.

Rail systems are extraordinarily expensive, no doubt about it. And the plan before the voters is not perfect. Final ridership figures are not yet in, and many specifics regarding the route remain undetermined.

Many opponents argue, in effect, that we should wait for the perfect plan. But the perfect plan will never arrive.

The vote is about more than a rail line, the editorial says:

Because rail lines concentrate large numbers of potential customers in compact areas, they can encourage a denser pattern of housing, retail and commercial development. They have encouraged development in cities as varied as Denver, Tampa, Fla., and Little Rock, Ark.

That's why the question facing voters on Nov. 4 is not simply whether to increase a sales tax, but what sort of city we want to build for the future.

As the Star editors conclude,

Voters should approve the next step in the development of Kansas City, and vote “yes” for the rail plan on Nov. 4.

Earlier, on Sep. 29th, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce decided to back the light rail measure, including the dedicated sales tax, and inaddition to contribute $25,000 to the campaign to pass the tax measure.

The Chamber's endorsement represents a significant turnaround from 2001, when the business group helped defeat a proposed half-cent sales tax intended to build an officially sponsored 24-mile system.

As the Star reports (Oct. 20th),

Chamber leaders opposed the 2001 light rail plan because it was too much money for too few riders. The chamber also worried about the length of the 25-year tax.

Helping sway the Chamber this time around was the journalistic effort by the Star, which recently reviewed LRT tax votes in 10 major cities over the past two decades and found that in all cases, light rail plans advanced by cities or transit agencies won the backing of chamber of commerce groups, which saw LRT as a spur to economic development.

Finally, a third major enforsement of the light rail/tax measure came on Oct. 1st from the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association, representing the city's tourism industry.

Citing positive ramifications for tourism, the association's resolution affirmed that "light rail makes economic sense for Kansas City" and would give the city a "competitive advantage … that at least 27 other cities in America already have in place." [Kansas City Star, "Business Briefs", Oct. 1st]

This NewsLog entry has been adapted from reports filed by Tucson-based rail transit researcher and advocate Edward B. Havens, with supplementary information from the LRN Project team.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/10/24

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24 October 2008

USA Election:
John McCain's persistent record of saying No to transit and rail passenger investment

John McCain As the NewsLog entry John McCain's long hostility to rail public transport may now be a liability has noted, Senator John McCain (an Arizona Republican, and presidential contender) has an extensive history as a ferocious opponent of Amtrak intercity rail passenger service.
[Photo: AP]

Indeed, McCain's record seems to suggest a consistent and across-the-board opposition to public transportation programs, particularly involving rail projects or services. As the article cited above points out,

McCain's economic views [which emphasize cutting public spending and programs] raise concerns that a McCain administration might possibly be even more hostile to all forms of public transportation than the current Bush administration.

Much of John McCain's opposition to federal spending is focused on earmarks – funding allocations for specific purposes designated by individual lawmakers, and usually included in a budgetary appropriation bill after negotiations to achieve passage of the bill. McCain is strongly opposed to the use of earmarks for federal budgeting, and has pledged to try to eliminate them if he's elected president.

However, earmarks have to some extent been given a "bad rap". Basically, earmarking has emerged as a mechanism used by legislators to access and channel funding for projects in their states or local districts. These targeted funding uses can involve a wide range of projects, from small-scale beautification, pedestrian, or scientific research projects to major highway, air facility, or public transportation projects. In this respect, earmarking represents a response to bureaucratic efforts to "ration" available federal funds, and a tool to ensure a more equitable distribution of funds (which might otherwise be monopolized by larger or more politically dominant regions and their representatives).

Earmarks have evolved into an opportunity for funding for smaller municipalities that cannot muster the political power to influence government agencies or to pass legislation fully benefiting their communities. Although some earmarks have been abused, others have undergone thorough analysis and fund worthwhile projects and services – and have been critical in jump-starting some important public transportation projects. These have included a number of light rail transit (LRT) New Start projects across the USA.

McCain's opposition to earmarks seems predicated on an ideological objective of constraining the level of federal investment generally (in deference to reliance on private-profit initiatives under the supposedly "normal" capitalist market process – a "normality" that is being increasingly seen as highly fragile within the current context of worldwide credit market collapse and economic crisis). McCain was one of only 18 members of Congress who abstained from any earmarking of 2008 appropriations bills.

Like a number of politicians – recycling a recurrent theme in the mass media – McCain intones against "pork-barrel spending", often just called "pork". However, what one politician derides as "pork" can often be another's crucial funding for essential and worthy local-area projects. Indeed, the pejorative term "pork" often is applied to funding allocations that represent the efforts of constituencies – including public transit agencies – to merely obtain a fair share of federal revenue disbursements.

In Arizona, Sen. McCain's home state, legislators do not attempt to ask for funding for any local projects because they know that McCain will not support any earmarks. As a result, Arizona has been a donor state in all recent federal reauthorization bills, meaning they give more money to transportation than they receive. This situation has given McCain a further pretext for opposing various federal surface transportation funding programs, with the complaint that Arizona doesn't receive its "fair share" of revenue.

In any case, McCain's political and legislative record indicates a consistent opposition to major public transportation initiatives, including the principal funding legislation of the federal mass transportation programs. For example:

Opposition to ISTEA — In 1998 McCain opposed the reauthorization legislation for the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), the mechanism sustaining the key federal program for funding and guiding urban public transportation development. While McCain didn't show up to vote on the bill, he lobbied against it, denouncing what he called a "demonstration project frenzy" and the effort (ultimately unsuccessful) to include Amtrak intercity rail passenger service in the funding process. He also inveighed against funding for "traffic calming projects" and bike paths included in the bill.

Minneapolis LRTOpposition to Minneapolis LRT — Sen. McCain has opposed earmarks intended to fund the highly successful Hiawatha Line in Minnesota. In 2001, he called the spending bill that contained Senator Martin Sabo's $50 million earmark for it, "one of the most gluttonous, pork-driven, self-serving spending agendas we've seen yet." [ Minneapolis Star Tribune 5 Sept. 2008]
[Minneapolis LRT photo: Peter Ehrlich]

Opposition to Phoenix LRT and public transit — In 2004, McCain voted against a $388 billion spending bill, approved by Congress as a whole, that included $75 million for the light rail transit (LRT) line between Phoenix and Mesa and $3.5 million for construction improvements at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and bus and mass transit facilities in the East and West Valley. Aside from opposing LRT project funding, Sen. McCain has not officially stated opposition to the Phoenix LRT system. However, he has, according to the Phoenix Business Journal (22 Nov. 2004), "voiced reservations regarding light rail."

Phoenix LRT Phoenix LRT car gets "hands-on" inspection from crowd of passengers at station during system testing phases in July 2008. While new rail system has generated local enthusiasm, Arizona Senator John McCain has been cool and non-supportive.
[Photo: Cheryl Evans]

Opposition to SAFETEA-LU — In 2005, McCain voted against the successor legislation to ISTEA, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) – again, rejecting the key funding legislation for the federal mass transportation program. McCain even attacked landscaping of the Ronald Reagan Freeway in California as a further example of despised "pork" (reported in International Railway Journal, Sep. 2005).

When he was in Hawaii recently, McCain was asked about a measure that will be on the November ballot that will ask voters whether they support rail transit for the city of Honolulu. McCain's staff issued a statement that did not state his position on the rail project but said that he "believes we must not look to the federal government to solve all problems, or fund all solutions. Energy problems create entrepreneurial opportunities and to some extent we must allow the marketplace to create new solutions." [ Honolulu Advertiser, 17 Aug. 2008.] This admonition is consistent with McCain's record of opposition to federal support for urban public transportation, and suggests that a McCain presidential administration would continue to oppose federal assistance for local projects such as this.

McCain's hostility to public transport and rail passenger services may be linked to his substantial dependency on political campaign contributions from the air transport, automotive, and oil & gas industries. This may also explain McCain's eager support of federal air transport legislation, standing in sharp contrast to his record on urban mass transportation and rail public transport – for instance, his votes in 2001 for the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act, and in 2003 for the Federal Aviation Administration FY2004-2006 Authorization bill.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics' website, between 1998 and 2008 alone, McCain received a total of $948,462 – nearly a million dollars – just from the air transport industry.

This same watchdog group tallies McCain's total career-long contributions from the oil & gas and automotive industries as follows:

• Oil & Gas $1,912,617
• Automotive $1,138,230

With such a base of contributors, a mindset intensely focused on oil and gas production and hostile to federal funding of public transport, and a consistent track record of opposition to both Amtrak and the federal urban mass transit funding program, it should come as no surprise to learn, as the Washington-based Archinect blog recently pointed out (June 5th), that "McCain has sworn that if elected, the shuttering of Amtrak would be a 'a non-negotiable issue.'"

Basic research and working narrative for this report were originally provided by Susan Pantell, a research associate with the Light Rail Now Project.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/10/24

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23 October 2008

Rail modes continue to lead DART's strong transit ridership growth rate

Dallas, Texas is another US city, operating both rail and bus services, that has been experiencing a significant ridership increase, particularly in response to soaring motor fuel costs and worsening general economic hardship.

Even more interesting is the fact that the rail ridership on Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) – the regional public transit authority for the Dallas urban area – has soared at a much faster rate than bus ridership – although all modes have seen solid growth.

According to a recent article (Sep. 25th) in the Dallas Morning News, average daily ridership on the main component modes of DART's system breaks down as follows (average weekday rider-trips in August, compared with same month of 2007):

• Bus – nearly 158,000 – up 3%
• Light Rail – over 73,000 – up 18%
• Regional passenger rail (Trinity Railway Express) – over 11,000 – up 20%

DART Ridership Increase Rates
(% Increase in Weekday Ridership, Aug. 2007-Aug. 2008)


LRT Light rail transit
RPR Regional passenger rail
BUS Motor bus

In other words, DART's rail services attracted new ridership at about six times the rate of the agency's bus operations.

Contradicting the claims of rail critics and "buses only" proponents, this seems to be a consistent pattern – replicated with very few exceptions in cities across the country with new rail transit systems – and it underscores one of the main contentions of rail transit advocates: that rail is where the growth is in America's public transport.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/10/23

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14 October 2008

USA Election:
Joe Biden, longtime rail passenger champion, seeks vice-presidency on Obama-Biden ticket

In Senator Joe Biden, passenger rail advocacy has long had a strong champion in Congress, and, if the Obama-Biden ticket prevails in next month's election (Nov. 4th), perhaps in the office of the nation's vice-presidency. Biden, of course, is the Democratic Party's nominee for vice-president.

As Light Rail Now! has pointed out in our recent article USA: Obama says "Yes", McCain "No" to Amtrak Passenger Rail and Rail Safety bills:

...Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden, not only has been one of the rail passenger system's most enthusiastic backers in Congress, but also has commuted regularly via Amtrak between his home in Delaware and the Senate in Washington.

Joe Biden Indeed, Sen. Biden has ridden Amtrak trains between Wilmington, Delaware and Washington, DC for 36 years, and has been a longtime supporter of Amtrak. (In photo at right, Sen. Biden is seen on 25 Aug. 2008 at the Amtrak station in Wilmington, which he has used for years to commute to his job in the US Senate.)
[Photo: Bradley C. Bower]

Biden's support of Amtrak stands in striking contrast to the long-term animosity toward Amtrak shown by John McCain. (See: John McCain's long hostility to rail public transport may now be liability.)

Biden was an original co-sponsor of the Amtrak Reauthorization Bill introduced on 7 January 2003 (currently known as the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007, versions of which have passed both chambers of Congress and are now awaiting a conference committee). When he introduced an earlier version of the bill on 6 March 2002, Biden stated,

For 30 years, I have witnessed Congress dangling a carrot in front of Amtrak's eyes, funding it just enough for it to limp along. And I'll tell you, this has to stop. Now is the time to commit politically and financially to a strong, safe, and efficient passenger rail system." [George Washington University website,, 15 Aug. 2003]

"Senator Biden's voting record is very clear in support of Amtrak" emphasized David Johnson, Deputy Director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. "Both his votes and his words have backed that up over the years, and we are certainly pleased that he was selected to be the vice presidential candidate." [Washington Post, 2 Sept. 2008]

Biden has also been a strong supporter of increasing safety on America's rail lines, and has fought to secure funding for Amtrak to upgrade its tunnels, hire more police and bomb-sniffing dogs, build more fences, and add lighting to terminals. His support is in part due to the importance of Amtrak to Delaware's economy since there is no commercial air service in the state.

Amtrak's president in 2001, George Warrington, awarded him the "Champion of the Rails", and the American Passenger Rail Coalition gave him the "Rail Leadership Award" in 2002.

Biden's younger son, Hunter, is a lobbyist and vice-chairman of Amtrak's Board of Directors. He was appointed to a five-year term by President Bush.

During his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Biden said, "I profoundly disagree with the direction John [McCain] wants to take this country, from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Amtrak to veterans." [Emphasis added.]

Biden's strong focus on America's infrastructure and transportation system needs were indicated in a speech he delivered in Keokuk, Iowa last year (reported in the Keokuk Daily Gate City, 29 August 2007).

"You are looking at Mr. Transportation" Biden said in response to a question about developing an electrified rail system like Europe's. "I am the reason Amtrak keeps moving."

Biden noted that it costs considerably more money to build one lane of highway than to lay one mile of railway track. "We are doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing" he asserted.

According to Biden, the cost of updating America's infrastructure has been estimated at $1.7 trillion, far more than the cost of updating China's. "Why do you think businesses are leaving [the USA]?" he told the crowd. "We need a good infrastructure, which would benefit economic development."

Joe Biden has been a consistently strong supporter of urban public transit as well as intercity Amtrak service. A policy statement from the Obama-Biden campaign, "Barack Obama and Joe Biden: Strengthening America's Transportation Infrastructure" includes the following section on "Improve Public Transportation and Transportation Planning":

Invest in Public Transportation: Public transit not only reduces the amount of time individuals spend commuting, but also has significant benefits to air quality, public health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country. Obama and Biden will work with state and local governments across the country on efforts to create new, effective public transportation systems and modernize our aging urban public transit infrastructure.

Create Greater Incentives for Public Transit Usage: The federal tax code rewards driving to work by allowing employers to provide parking benefits of $205 per month tax free to their employees. The tax code provides employers with commuting benefits for transit, carpooling or vanpooling capped at $105 per month. This gives drivers a nearly 2:1 advantage over transit users. Obama and Biden will reform the tax code to make benefits for driving and public transit or ridesharing equal.

It is likely that Biden's long and solid record of supporting public transportation and Amtrak rail passenger service will attract votes for the Obama-Biden ticket from supporters of these public benefits.

Biden on Acela Sen. Joe Biden (right) chats with other passengers during a trip on Amtrak's highspeed Acela train between Wilmington and Washington in September.
[Photo: Gerald Herbert]

Basic research and working narrative for this report were provided by Susan Pantell, a Research Associate with the Light Rail Now Project.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/10/14

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12 October 2008

Washington-Northern Virginia:
Regional rail ridership surges nearly 13% in year

Washington, DC — Virginia Railway Express (VRE) – the regional passenger rail (RPR, or "commuter rail") system linking Washington with dozens of Virginia suburban and exurban communities – reports that VRE ridership has been soaring as more and more people continue to flock to the agency's trains "to beat the traffic and frustration of the daily commute."

VRE's first quarter ridership tallies indicate that the rail transit service carried nearly one million trips (998,329) in the first three months of FY 2009 – a first for the agency.

"This equates to a 12.9% growth over last year, and ridership in October continues to remain very strong" says VRE spokesman Mark Roeber.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/10/12

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12 October 2008

USA Election:
Barack Obama may get boost from strong pro-transit, pro-rail record

As the USA lurches toward replacement of its governing administration, in the midst of a growing economic crisis and Peak Oil threat (diminishing petroleum supplies) with alarmingly higher motor fuel prices, the prospect of a 21st-century New Deal-style public works program – addressing needs such as job creation, public infrastructure upgrading, and alternative energy development – is being raised as a key element of future US policy. See, for example, our story USA: Federal Panel's Call for Motor Fuel Tax Hike to Fund Infrastructure Upgrade Stirs Transport Policy Debate

Upgrading and expanding public transportation and electrification of transportation systems have been proposed by the Light Rail Now Project as crucial components of any US infrastructure-development strategy.

It seems improbable that such a program would be embraced by an administration under John McCain, who strongly adheres to an ideology of privatization and dependency on the "free market" and private-profit enterprise very similar to the current policies of George W. Bush and his Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters. On the contrary, from the basis of Sen. McCain's stated political perspective and documented record, it's reasonable to expect an approximate continuation of current Bush administration policies – especially a de-emphasis of publicly sponsored programs, and instead a reliance of private initiatives (which can have real but minimal impact). McCain's long animosity toward rail passenger transportation would lead one to conclude that a McCain administration would specifically continue the Bush administration's (and McCain's own) tendency to pursue a dismemberment of Amtrak's national rail passenger network and to discourage major rail transit projects (which McCain seems to regard merely as "pork"), together with further promotion of highway transport and the private motor bus industry. (See: John McCain's long hostility to rail public transport may now be liability.)

In contrast, it's much more plausible to assume that a Barack Obama administration could embrace and move forward with an achievable 21st-century version of the New Deal (US President Franklin Roosevelt's 1930s-era emphasis on public works projects) that incorporates a focus on rail public transport and a transportation electrification program, such as the Light Rail Now Project has proposed in our Electrification 101 series:

Electrification of Transportation as a Response to Peaking of World Oil Production
A 10% Reduction in America's Oil Use in Ten to Twelve Years
Ready-to-Go Urban Rail Projects as a Medium-Term Response to America's Oil Problems

Obama Senator Obama's ideology and political record suggest a pattern of strong support for both urban transit and Amtrak intercity rail passenger service. Obama has a strong record of supporting trains and other forms of public transportation, and says that, if elected president, he will support policies that encourage transit development. Obama's positions potentially address both the serious deficiencies in America's deteriorating transportation infrastructure and the nation's increasingly precarious dependency on petroleum-fuel highway and air transport.
[Photo: Getty]

Although transportation has not been a central issue in the presidential campaign, Obama's positions, as discussed in this article, stand in sharp contrast to those of his opponent, Senator John McCain. (See article cited above.) His positions on such issues may bolster his support among voters that are particularly focused on the need for public transport – especially rail – as well as infrastructure renewal, transportation electrification and energy diversification, public works programs, and related policies.

In 2003, as an Illinois state senator, Obama sponsored a bill to create the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Transportation, which was charged with providing more efficient transit through low-income areas of Chicago. In 2005, in response to the George W. Bush Administration's proposal to sharply reduce funding for Amtrak, the newly elected US Senator Obama noted, "Every year they make the same proposal and some of it is just ideological....It strikes me that we should make a greater investment in upgrading our rail system rather than eliminating the subsidies that already exist. If you look at the amount of subsidies that we provide the highways relative to the subsidies that we provide rail transportation, it pales in comparison."

Obama echoed a comment many Amtrak supporters have made for years, saying, "We're the only developing country in the world that doesn't make a significant commitment to our rail transportation system." [LightRailNow! Feb. 2005] In 2007, he supported the Lautenberg-Lott Amtrak bill, which would provide about $11.6 billion to Amtrak over the next six years.

On the campaign trail this past April in an Indianapolis suburb at the home of an Amtrak machinist who faces a possible layoff, Senator Obama said, "The irony is with the gas prices what they are, we should be expanding rail service. One of the things I have been talking about for awhile is high speed rail connecting all of these Midwest cities – Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, St. Louis." [Time, The Page (blog), 12 Oct. 2008]

He continued,

This is something that we should be talking about a lot more. We are going to be having a lot of conversations this summer about gas prices. And it is a perfect time to start talk about why we don't have better rail service. We are the only advanced country in the world that doesn't have high speed rail. We just don't' have it. And it works on the Northeast corridor. They would rather go from New York to Washington by train than they would by plane. It is a lot more reliable and it is a good way for us to start reducing how much gas we are using.

In August, at a speech Youngstown, Ohio, Obama again compared travel by trains to airplanes: "By the time you get to the airport take off your shoes, get to the terminal, realize that your flight's been delayed two hours, . . . by the time it's all done it's a five-hour trip! ... So the time is right now for us to start thinking about high-speed rail as an alternative to air transportation, connecting all these cities and think about what a great project that would be in terms of rebuilding America." [Trains for America, 6 Aug. 2008]

Senator Obama opposed a federal gas tax holiday (advocated by McCain and Sen. Hillary Clinton) over the summer of 2008. He said that high prices of gasoline should "give individuals much more of an incentive to look at trains and mass transit as an alternative." [DCist, 5 June 2008]

In Miami, Obama discussed investment in mass transit and city planning, and equated construction of high-speed rail lines with national pride. "And we'll also invest in our ports, roads, and high-speed rails – because I don't want to see the fastest train in the world built halfway around the world in Shanghai, I want to see it built right here in the United States of America." [Trains for America, 21 June 2008]

Senator Obama is a co-sponsor of a bill (S. 1926) to create a National Infrastructure Bank, funded through $60 billion over ten years in tax-exempt bonds, which would provide additional funding for infrastructure projects such as highways, airports and new rail development. He sees one advantage of this bank as helping to leverage public and private funds to pay for additional infrastructure investments. [BNA, 11 Sept. 2008]

On a campaign stop in Portland, Oregon, Obama held the city up as an example of the type of transportation planning we should be doing throughout the country. "It's time that the entire country learn from what's happening right here in Portland with mass transit and bicycle lanes and funding alternative means of transportation. That's the kind of solution that we need for America. That's the kind of truth telling that we are going to do in this campaign and when I am President of the United States of America." [DCist, 5 June 2008]

Obama Barack Obama speaks to crowd during Whistle Stop tour along Amtrak's Keystone route in April 2008.
[Photo: Amtrak Forum]

Although the media have provided relatively little information on the candidates' views on transportation, Obama has quite an extensive discussion of transportation issues on his campaign website, It provides the following exposition of Obama's transportation perspective, policy views, and program:

Barack Obama believes that America's long-term competitiveness depends on the stability of our critical infrastructure. As president, Obama will make strengthening our transportation systems, including our roads and bridges, a top priority.

Support Amtrak Funding:
Barack Obama has been a strong supporter of federal financial support for Amtrak. Obama believes we need to reform Amtrak to improve accountability. In many parts of the country, Amtrak is the only form of reliable transportation. n the U.S. Senate, Obama is a cosponsor of the Passenger Rail Investment and Innovation Act of 2007, a leading act to provide long-term federal investment to Amtrak. As president, Barack Obama will continue to fight for Amtrak funding and reform so that individuals, families and businesses throughout the country have safe and reliable transportation options.

Support Development of High-Speed Freight and Passenger Rail:
Barack Obama supports development of high-speed rail networks across the country. Providing passengers with safe high-speed rail will have significant environmental and metropolitan planning advantages and help diversify our nation's transportation infrastructure. Our domestic rail freight capacity must also be strengthened because our demand for rail transportation has never been greater, leaving many key transportation hubs stretched to capacity. Obama is committed to renewing the federal government's commitment to high speed rail so that our nation's transportation infrastructure continues to support, and not hinder, our nation's long-term economic growth.

Invest in Public Transportation:
Public transit not only reduces the amount of time individuals spend commuting, but also has significant benefits to air quality, public health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Barack Obama will re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country. Obama will work with state and local governments across the country on efforts to create new, effective public transportation systems and modernize our aging urban public transit infrastructure.

Create Greater Incentives for Public Transit Usage:
The federal tax code rewards driving to work by allowing employers to provide parking benefits of $205 per month tax free to their employees. The tax code provides employers with commuting benefits for transit, carpooling or vanpooling capped at $105 per month. This gives drivers a nearly 2:1 advantage over transit users. Obama will reform the tax code to make benefits for driving and public transit or ridesharing equal.

Strengthen Metropolitan Planning to Cut Down Traffic Congestion:
Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars, to walk, bicycle and have access other transportation alternatives. As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account. Obama will build upon his efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks. As president, Obama will work to provide states and local governments with the resources they need to address sprawl and create more livable communities.

Require States to Plan for Energy Conservation:
Obama will also reform current law which simply asks governors and their state Departments of Transportation to "consider" energy conservation as a condition of receiving federal transportation dollars. As president, Obama will require governors and local leaders in our metropolitan areas to make "energy conservation" a required part of their planning for the expenditure of federal transportation funds.

Obama's strong and consistent emphasis on public transportation and rail passenger development (in contrast to McCain's opposition), plus his emphasis on energy alternatives and energy conservation measures, may provide Obama's candidacy a boost among many voters in the current electoral process. However, should Obama win the presidency, advocates of rail transit and rail passenger development and transportation electrification would have a major challenge in converting rhetoric, dreams, and general concepts into specific programs with workable sources of financing.

Basic research and working narrative for this report were provided by Susan Pantell, a Research Associate with the Light Rail Now Project.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/10/12

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8 October 2008

San Jose:
In continuing comeback, light rail ridership hits new high

San Jose's "Comeback Kid" light rail transit (LRT) system (see San Jose's "Comeback Kid" Light Rail System Opens First Link of Vasona Extension)has been making an even bigger comeback.

Ridiculed by transit opponents for its plunging ridership during California's devastating economic slump of the early 2000's, the LRT system run by Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has been climbing back with impressive performance gains. LRT ridership has been soaring – scoring a record high weekday average of 37,536 rider-trips this past June (reported in San Jose Mercury News, Sep. 2nd).

According to an Associated Press report, broadcast by CBS5 TV on Sep. 13th, "The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is reporting a continued rise this year in the number of people using its bus and light rail system." In other words, the entire transit system is experiencing major ridership gains.

Monthly bus and light rail riders for August totaled about 3.8 million, representing a 2.6 percent increase over August 2007.

Weekday ridership averaged 145,228, a 6.6 percent increase over August 2007, and the highest ridership since August 2002.

That included a substantial increase in average weekday bus ridership, which rose to 109,082, a 8.2 percent increase compared with August 2007.

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/10/08

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8 October 2008

Obama says "Yes", McCain "No" to Amtrak Passenger Rail and Rail Safety bills

By a 74-24 vote on Oct. 1st, the US Senate passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, and its companion, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

McCain Illustrating starkly different attitudes to public transport and safety, Senator Barack Obama (an Illinois Democrat and US presidential candidate – see photo below) voted "Yes" to the measures, while Sen. John McCain (the Arizona Republican and opposing presidential candidate – photo at right) voted "No."

Despite Amtrak's potential to provide alternative mobility in an era of heightening concerns over problems such as petroleum supplies, highway congestion, safety, and the like, McCain has remained a consistent and ferocious opponent of the system and its rail passenger network, favoring instead highway and air travel.
[Photo: LRN file]

Obama, in contrast, has supported upgrading and expansion of Amtrak, and his running mate, Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden, not only has been one of the rail passenger system's most enthusiastic backers in Congress, but also has commuted regularly via Amtrak between his home in Delaware and the Senate in Washington.

 Obama & Biden US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (left) and vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden (right) have been strong supporters of Amtrak and public transportation.
[Photo: LRN file]

According to a report from the United Transportation Union (UTU, Oct. 1st)

The Amtrak portion of the bill [package] contains a blueprint to protect Amtrak and expand intercity rail passenger service. It supports a five-year cumulative $13.1 billion federal subsidy to Amtrak, provides seed money for the development of additional high-speed rail corridors, and permits the Surface Transportation Board to fine host freight railroads that delay Amtrak trains.

The following is UTU's summary of crucial details of provisions of the Amtrak bill:

• State Corridors: Federal grants are provided to states to develop innovative new services, increase capacity on heavily used rail lines, and attract new riders.

• High-Speed Rail Corridors: Grants are provided to construct 11 to-be-determined high-speed rail corridors.

• On-Time Performance: DOT and the Surface Transportation Board (STB) must investigate Amtrak delays and determine if they are the fault of the host railroad. If so, host rail carrier may be ordered to pay Amtrak monetary damages.

The UTU also summarizes the following major provisions of the Rail Safety bill:

• Conductor certification: Within 18 months of the bill's becoming law, the FRA must establish a program to certify conductors, including minimum training standards.

• Positive Train Control: Requires installation of positive train control by Dec. 31, 2015, on all main-line track where intercity passenger and commuter railroads operate, and where toxic-by-inhalation hazmat is transported. Also, grants are provided to assist railroads in implementing ECP brakes and switch-position indicators.

• Hours-of-Service: Requires at least 10 consecutive uninterrupted hours off duty following 12 hours on duty. (There is a three-year exception for passenger train employees, during which time their hours of service limitations will be studied by the FRA.) No freight railroad employee covered by the hours-of-service law may be called to work unless they have had at least 10 uninterrupted hours off during the prior 24-hour period. And following each six days of work, a covered employee must be given 48 hours of uninterrupted time-off at their home terminal. If the carrier requires that employee to work a 7th day – even if it is to return them to their home terminal – then the uninterrupted time-off at the home terminal must be at least 72 hours.

As to limbo time, no employee covered by the hours-of-service law may be placed in limbo time after they have been on duty, waited for deadhead transportation or been in any other mandatory service for more than a total of 276 hours in any month. And total limbo time per month is restricted to no more than 40 hours – reduced to 30 hours on the first anniversary of the bill's becoming law. The bill permits general chairpersons to sit down with carrier labor relations officers and negotiate a better balance between time off and earnings, while preserving guaranteed time off.

• Locomotive Cab Safety: Requires the FRA study the safety impact of the use of train crews using personal electronic devices. (The UTU has learned that the FRA already is considering issuing an emergency order prohibiting train crews from using personal cell phones, Blackberries, iPods and other electronic devices, except for company business – and then only when two-crewpersons are in the cab.)

• Medical Attention: Prohibits railroads from denying, delaying, or interfering with the medical or first aid treatment of injured workers, and from disciplining those workers that request treatment. Also requires railroads to arrange for immediate transport of injured workers to the nearest appropriate hospital.

• Inspector Staffing: Increases the number of federal rail safety inspectors and supporting staff by 200.

The complete 315-page bill package, including the Rail Safety and Amtrak provisions, can be viewed at the following site provided by the UTU:

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
Updated 2008/10/08

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